Interview with Bob Hughes

Title

Interview with Bob Hughes

Creator

Date

2015-07-13

Language

Type

Format

00:58:38 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

AHughesWR150713

Transcription

NM: So, this is now recording, and my name is Nigel Moore, I’m the interviewer, and I’m interviewing Flight Lieutenant Bob Hughes on the 13th of July. I’m in Mr Hughes’ home in North Hants. So, Mr Hughes, would you like to tell us something about your upbringing and your life before you joined the RAF?
BH: I was only a, a ordinary seniors school and I never went, never passed Eleven Plus, so I went to the, one of the senior productive schools and then I, I passed, I suppose, most things, you know, and when the opportunity came, I took [unclear] said we had a – I’d been working as a coachbuilder, or in, with a coachbuilding firm, and we were, were making Rolls Royce – taking Rolls Royce chassis in and making them into finished cars. And while I was there, we had a fellow named Serge Kalinsky (he was a Scandinavian diplomat) and he started swearing and said ‘There’s gonna be a bloody war any time now! Within the next few months, I guarantee it, in the next few months!’ So, knowing that I – my father had had a rough time in the army, in the trenches, I thought ‘ Well, no army for me, I’m gonna join the air force now,’ because Sywell was a handy aerodrome, so I went and joined weekend air force. And, once I was in there and the war was declared, naturally I was transferred straight away into the main RAF. And, erm –
NM: So, you joined a reserve squadron, did you?
BH: That’s right, RAF Volunteer Reserves. And I don’t know the ne – well, I think it was 23 Squadron that I went to, which was when – during the Battle of Britain.
NM: So, how – can you describe your training, your flying training?
BH: Flying training?
NM: What were you training on? What were you flying?
BH: Well, mostly, in Ansons and, well, you know, I, I’m terrible at trying to remember the names of these aircraft tonight [?], but the – oh dear, two, two, two engined, the planes that we flew in, and – oh, I can’t think of the, the names, have I got it in here at all? [sound of turning pages]
NM: Not to worry, what about the training itself?
BH: Well, this was to go in these aircraft and did a few bail-outs practices and in the, in the, oh dear, in the yards of some big firms where they, they’d got escape possibility there, so we tried, tried those out several times. [background noises, turning pages]
NM: So, you say you flew in the Battle of Britain?
BH: Yes.
NM: What –
BH: That was in Blenheims.
NM: Can you de – can you talk –
BH: Now, this is the thing: quite often, when the Battle of Britain is mentioned, it’s either – what’s the two [unclear] the two aircraft that were always noticed? I think every time they mention these two aircraft, I think, how about the Night Shifts? ‘Cause I flew in, in the, in the Night Shift, and the aircraft we flew in wasn’t – oh dear, I’m terrible at names, I’m a terrible, terrible person to interview, really, because my memory is absolutely shocking. Blenheim, yes, but [pause] these, these were the usual things that we flew in those days, Ansons and Blenheims.
NM: So, can you describe the role that you played in the Battle of Britain flying these Blenheims?
BH: Well, I was a wireless operator/air gunner, and of course, in the, in those aircraft, you could picture everything, what am I talking about? Got a picture here [background noises].
NM: Yep, there’s the Blenheim.
BH: That’s – do you rec – do you recognise the one?
NM: Mr Hughes is pointing out a Mark 1 Blenheim.
BH: Mark 1 Blenheim, yeah, that’s right, yeah.
NM: ‘S’ right, and you were –
BH: And we had a, we had a turret on the top.
NM: And that’s where you were.
BH: When I flew later, in, in the big aircraft, the four-engine aircraft – they’re all here [background noises] when I flew later in the Wellington – that one’s the Lancaster, that is the Dambuster, they’ve got no turret on there but we, where we flew in the Lancasters, we had a turret, you see [?] but previously, during the Battle of Britain, it was on all the twin-engine aircraft.
NM: So, when you flew the Blenheims during the Battle of Britain, were you on bombing missions, and what – if so, what were your targets?
BH: Well, it were on defence.
NM: On defence?
BH: Defence patrol, up and down from the south coast up to, up the Thames Estuary, most of the time. [pause, sound of turning pages]
NM: And this was – were you called the Night Shift?
BH: The Night Shift, yes. There we are, there’s the aircraft. And that’s the flew – the pilot I flew with most of the time, this is Alan Gowarth [?] and that was, yes, and all Blenheims.
NM: So, this was Number 23 Squadron, night –
BH: 23 Squadron, night fighter squadron, yes.
NM: And can you describe your operations flying for 23 Squadron?
BH: Well –
NM: In the Blenheim?
BH: It was a, a patrol, up and down from the south coast up the Thames, the Thames Estuary, keeping a guard on things to the starboard, you know, any incoming aircraft, and we, we had quite a few that we, we followed, and went and dived down with ‘em, but we didn’t actually have a contact. [Pause] This first one, yeah [?] apart from anything else, we had anti-aircraft cooperation, searchlight cooperation, going backwards and forwards along the Thames Estuary. That’s what they were: night defensive patrols. And that was, that’s the fella, fella that I flew with most of the time.
NM: So, you encountered a few contacts but didn’t actually –
BH: We didn’t see anybody shot, shot down but we, we fired at them and we saw the bullets, you know, sort of going their direction but didn’t see anything falling down, not then.
NM: And what type of aircraft were you engaging?
BH: It was a Blenheim. Oh, I don’t know; well, they were twin, twin-engined aircraft, yeah. I can’t –
NM: Okay.
BH: Think of the name. [sound of turning pages] I’ve got a picture.
NM: So after the 23 Squadron, how did you move to – can you describe how you moved from Fighter Command to Bomber Command?
BH: Well, at the time, they were losing a lot of crews and aircraft and crews in, in Bomber Command, and so they were asking for volunteers and I volunteered to – went to Number 9 Bomber Squadron, which was at Honington, but I only did one air test with them, and then I was asked if I would volunteer and go to one, 149 Squadron, which was at Mildenhall, and that’s where I did most of the bombing trips that I did, up to, up to seventy-three, but they weren’t all to Germany. A lot – we had a spell over in the Middle East, and it was Benghazi that we were bombing then.
NM: So, the start of your operational life with 149 Squadron –
BH: 149, yes.
NM: Was that –
BH: Mildenhall.
NM: At Mildenhall.
BH: Yes.
NM: And –
BH: And we were –
NM: And how did you – can you describe how you met your crew and got a crew together?
BH: No, only sort of friendly meeting and you like the look of somebody and who you think was, was genuine. This first fellow we went – I flew with was a Squadron Leader Heather, and we went to Wilhelmshaven, [unclear] class cruisers and we were, we were bombing all around it, when this – oh, we went there again another night, repeat, repeat. I tell you what, when we first, when we first went there, they, they took us to canal, canals, and we got to aim in the canal with the mines, and mind you, was such a narrow mine, and having such a small tar – item, when we got back home, we told them how difficult it was, so we suggested ‘Why not bomb it instead of just putting mines there?’ So they sent us back the next night to, to do that. That was Wilhelmshaven.
NM: So, at this point, you were flying Wellingtons?
BH: Wellingtons, yes.
NM: And this was in nineteen-forty –
BH: 1949, February ’49.
NM: Forty – 1941?
BH: Ah, no, no, beg your pardon.
NM: Yes.
BH: Yes, ’41, yes.
NM: So, can you describe squadron life on 149 Bomber Command at Mil – Mildenhall?
BH: Well, it was just –
NM: What was life like?
BH: Just a friendly get-together, you know, I’m ninety, nearly ninety-five now and I was twenty, twenty then, nineteen or twenty. So, you know, to remember exactly what we did, we got friendly; whoever we met, we made friends with and wanted to know how we got on.
NM: Did you go out for nights out in around Mildenhall? What was – what were they like?
BH: Yes, but, you know, just a drink here and there and, but nothing to really note.
NM: And what about your crew? Do you have particular memories of your crew?
BH: Yes, I think I, quite honestly, having done so many and for such a long period, long ops, I reckon I was very lucky picking the, or matching up with a good set of wonderful pilots. You see, each of the pilots I flew with were absolutely wonderful; they seemed to go to the target and did the business and get back, no messing and no wandering about all over Germany.
NM: And how about the rest of the crew? Were you a close group?
BH: Yes, yes, I think, generally speaking it was with the naviga – with the observer, or navigator, as they were then, more than anything, and because with the navigator, it was a question of, when we got over the target, sort of the geography of the place. I remember one of the things, one of the worst op we went on was Essen, and the geography of that place was so – we could spot it out as easy as anything. [Pause] But then later on, we did another coast, coastal things like Wilhelmshaven, bombing the cruisers there, they, they took [unclear] class cruisers up the, up the, the fjords.
NM: Why was Essen such a bad target?
BH: Well, being an ammunition manufacturing place, I believe it was very heavily defended because of that. I mean, it was a manufacturer of, manufacturer of explosives and suchlike, and we seemed to cruise around it quite a lot, and anyhow, I was always telling the skipper, ‘Such-and-such is at the, on the starboard side,’ or, you know, ‘We’ve got to turn a little bit to the port to get this plane.’ That was on a reserve flight, 149 Squadron, and then I went to a reserve flight at Stradishall where they were preparing to get crews to go out to the Middle East, and then I had a spell in the Middle East.
NM: So, just back on your bombing raids here, over Essen and other German targets, you were giving instructions to the pilot –
BH: Oh yes, yes!
NM: To help him to do what?
BH: Yes, notifying where the canals are shooting off, to the south or the, the west, you know, that sort of thing. On very sunny [?] nights, the, the water (whether it was the river or canal), you could spot it that much easier, and you would report, you know, what you could see.
NM: So, tell us a little bit how you then transferred out to the Middle East. Was this the same squadron, was the whole squadron go out to the Middle East?
BH: Oh, no, no, it was with a, a, I was with this, what, this reserve flight to start with, wasn’t I? And then, then we heard that there’d been so many losses, crew losses, and there were appealing for people to, to go to transfer to the Middle East, and so I went to this reserve flight at Stradishall, and from there, via Malta, I went to, to 70 Squadron in Kabrit, which was in Egypt.
NM: That must have been quite a change. What – can you give us your memories of the change in going to the Middle East?
BH: Well, the thing was, we had, we had a turret to go to, and the preparations for, for raids and things were absolutely marvellous. We had an advanced base; we used to land in the desert and then take off again for the raid. Well, this one here, the first one we had, operations against enemy was Menida [?] Aerodrome, so actually, I liked the possibility of going into the front turret if we were going and attacking an aerodrome, so we can go ‘round and, you know, shooting up the, the, the arm – armoury points.
NM: So, you moved from the mid upper to the front for these raids?
BH: That’s right, yes, but most of the time, you know, we were, when you were in the rear turret, we were solely concerned about attacks by enemy aircraft, you know? So, most of our life was emphasised downwards. [Pause] We had one or two come up to us and nose – nosey towards us and managed to tell the pilot to do a dive and then we went down in, in a curve dive, you know, and got shot of them.
NM: So, you encountered enemy aircraft?
BH: Yes, yes.
NM: On many occasions?
BH: Oh, at least, oh, I’ll just think, at least a half a dozen times.
NM: So, tell us about squadron – your memories of squadron life in the desert. How different was it from the UK?
BH: Well, of course, water was the problem, sort of rationing out water, you know, and sort of having exercise, running and all the rest of it, had to avoid having too much water. But then, in the desert, particularly, that was an even worse problem. [Pause] That was a thing that we did quite often while in the Middle East, was starting the motor transport on the – between Cairo and Benghazi. The, the main road was, was used quite a lot by the enemy and we’d attack transport along there, and railway sidings, particularly, so they would try bringing the forces, German forces, into the desert via Benghazi and so we attacked the– oh, I can’t, I was trying to think of the, the general’s name: Rommel. Rommel was bringing all his replacement troops into Ben – Benghazi, so we went there and we – well, they called it the [unclear] because we hit it so many times, but it was where they were bringing the re – the new forces in.
NM: And were these daylight raids you were on, or night raids?
BH: Mostly night, but we did one or two; well, yes, I think about a third of them were daylight, but mostly night. [Pause] Then it was a question of geography and remembering the shape of the, the land underneath you, whereabouts you’d got to. Location, on the main way up to Benghazi, we had to sort out Bardi – Bardiyah and Menidi [?] to locate us that we were hitting the right thing. Railway sidings were attacked an enormous amount, but we had to sort out our geography to make sure we were bombing, strafing the right things. [Pause, sound of turning pages]
NM: So how did, how did your war continue? Can you describe – were there any changes over this period, 1941, in terms of how the squadron life continued?
BH: Well, towards the end of my period, we did a lot of education of fresh crews.
NM: Who had come out to Egypt?
BH: Yes. [Sound of turning pages] Oh, this is Pershore.
NM: Is that –
BH: Pershore, that was the OTU there, Pershore, where I did a lot of bombing from there, and then on to 12 Squadron.
NM: So, tell me how you managed to get then transferred back from the desert, back to Bomber Command in England.
BH: [Sound of turning pages] 50 Squadron [more turning pages] It’s in –
NM: What happened between 70 Squadron and, and 50 Squadron?
BH: We – everything was going alright and we were bombing everything we were asked to, and, but then they were asking for volunteers to do – to go to, to England again.
NM: So, did you volunteer on your own or did the entire crew volunteer?
BH: Oh, I volunteered on my own, I think, but this was 50 Squadron, 5 Group, Skellingthorpe, it was a liaison visit we did there, and while we were there, they wanted us to go to, to – on Lancasters to Magdeburg. As a matter of fact, I’d been on seventy-two trips, missions, and I’d never once been to Berlin, somebody was talking about [?] going to Berlin, so we went to Magdeburg, and after we’d bombed there, the skipper says ‘See on the starboard side, you’ll see Berlin, Bob, and that’s the nearest we shall get to it!’ [slight laugh] And of course we got ‘boo’s by the rest of the crew, and that’s where we finished up. That’s the seventy – that was my very last mission.
NM: So, we’ve jumped ahead into 1944 from 1941.
BH: 1944, January ’44, yeah.
NM: What – going back a little bit to coming out of Egypt into – back to England: you say you went to an OTU?
BH: Yes, yes.
NM: And you were still flying Wellingtons?
BH: Yes, as a trainee. Not as a trainee, as a –
NM: So you, you became an instructor?
BH: Instructor, yes.
NM: What was it like being –
BH: Yes, was that ’43? January ’43.
NM: That’s ’43, yep.
BH: Yeah, that’s right, went to an OTU.
NM: So you became an instructor?
BH: Instructor, that’s right.
NM: What else –
BH: And we did an operation from there at – oh, to Essen, several times.
NM: Just what was it like converting from a Wellington to a Lancaster? Can you –
BH: Well, we were –
NM: - describe it from a crew’s point of view?
BH: Well, we had wonderful turrets on the Lancaster and, oh, I think we were just pleased that it’s – that it was a new aircraft and we’d got four engines, you know? I don’t think we gave it much sort of consideration as to whether it was better or not, it just – we just accepted that it was better, and we were moved fa – we were flying faster. They, they were some of the worst planes [?] we did with Essen and mine laying, oh, we did a mine laying off Heligoland and that, that was a bit dicey; they seemed to have high defensive, the defences at these places. [Pause] While we were on OTU, of course, we did a lot of experience in cross-country, knowing our way about, you know, air-to-air fire, firing and air-to-sea firing, and that’s just for practice.
NM: Describe a little bit life as an instructor as opposed to operational air crew.
BH: Well, I was quite happy about that; I mean, I knew what I was talking about and the – I, I did see quite a lot, the fellers were coming to me for, you know, ‘Well, how do we, how do we sort out this?’ you know, the rear-see [?] retainer keeper, this was a familiar phrase, you know, ‘How do we deal with this when we’re still flying in the air?’ you know? You’ve got to do it with blinds – blindfold, and that was the case in some, sometimes, ‘cause there was machine, with machine guns. [Pause] That was the last trip we did, we were attacked by an ME-210, that was the target, and fired hundred and fifty rounds but there was no confirmed hits. [Pause] I’m sorry I’m not able to answer your questions quite as freely as I ought to, really.
NM: No, don’t worry about that, you’re doing wonderfully
BH: Well, a few years ago, perhaps I should – I’m a bit more chatty, but – [pause, sound of moving papers] You’ve got a record of service here, you see: I joined in May the 12th 1939, I joined the FBR [?] and received calling-up papers, then, into the regular air force in August of that year, August 27th.
NM: So, when you came to the end of your operations, why did you finish operations? Had you done, finished a tour, or –
BH: Yeah, well –
NM: What happened after your last operation?
BH: [Sound of turning pages] Oh yes, joined an AF – was an AFU, that was the training unit.
NM: So you became an instructor again?
BH: That’s right, yes, on gun, guns and armoury.
NM: And that took you to the end of the war, did it?
BH: Yes, well, February, February, no, Oct – no, October ’44. [Pause] Various aircraft that I flew in was a Blenheim Mark 1, a Fairey Battle, that was an early, early one that I flew in a lot, and then the Boulton Paul Defiant, which we did most of the shooting with on, on nights, and then the Avro Anson (that, this was a transport aircraft most of the time), and then in the Wellingtons, I flew in the 1, 1C, 1A, Mark 2 and the 3, and then the Avro Lancasters, Marks 1 and 2, ah, 3. Oh, also, I flew in the Lysanders quite a few times, and Blackburn Bothas; Blackburn Botha, they were used to use for training quite a lot. I know they weren’t very popular for some reason, but they did the trick.
NM: So they were the training aircraft?
BH: Yes, Bothas.
NM: So, I’m interested in the Lysander, your role in flying in a Lysander; what was your role then?
BH: My role then was to, to, to take us into the desert for take-offs, those are [?] for operations, or to res – rescue from the desert after we’d landed. That’s when I used the Lysander a few times, was for – was rep – was actually saving, you know, escape. I flew also in Fairey Battle, Ansons, Bothas and Lysanders. Well, the Lysander, as I say, was a thing to save you, you know, sort of a –
NM: So, of your seventy-seven operations, either in the desert or across Germany, are any particularly memorable for you?
BH: Seven – seventy-three, it was.
NM: Oh, seventy-three missions.
BH: Yeah.
NM: Okay.
BH: Well, yeah, occasionally we got caught out with the ‘Un [?] defence plane catching up with us, but most of the time, we were wide awake to it and whenever we saw something on the starboard or the port side, we’d tell the skipper and we’d dive away. [Pause] Course, one of the main things, main incidents, was the machine, with the machine belts, belts of machines, you know, sort of making sure we didn’t get caught up on those. [Pause] Anyhow, there’s a – unless there a record of service in the whole, the whole lot, that I, you know, kept it down to a minimum there. I went recently to [unclear]; my wife’s been there to the Queen.
NM: When you look back on your time in Bomber Command, what are your main thoughts?
BH: Well, I was glad I was available to do it, and the friendship that you made with most of the people there was pretty good. [Pause] That was the thing; with the link trainer [?], I used to enjoy going in that, flying the various things through the link trainer.
NM: How do you think Bomber Command has been treated since the end of the war?
BH: What? Haven’t really, haven’t had any more to do with it or knowledge of it, really. No, I don’t think that we’ve – I think we’ve, we would have cottoned on to it a bit more if anything had gone wrong, but everything seemed to be right, we sort of sorted all the problems out.
NM: Do you think Bomber Command has had enough recognition since the end of the war for what they did, or what you did?
BH: Well, yes, I think so, I think we’ve been reason – reasonably recognised.
NM: Tell me about your life since the end of the war. Did you stay in the RAF long?
BH: Oh, no, when – I had been with a firm that repaired converted Rolls Royce from the chassis into a cars, you know, and it was a good firm to work for, and I, I did a lot of this, this work, and this is how I came to meet this Kalinsky, who came in with his Wellington, with his Rolls Royce, and so he told us that there was gonna be a war, so that’s what made me go into the Fleet – reserved occupation, so that when I was called up, I was bound to be in the RAF.
NM: So, on leaving the RAF, you rejoined the same company?
BH: After – do you know, my memory, my memory’s terrible. Yes, I must, I must have done, went straight to Mulliner’s, who were coachbuilders, class coachbuilder, they were mainly, mostly London but we had a branch in Northampton, and then [pause] think I got the DFC for my last, last trips over Essen.
NM: So you were awarded the DFC?
BH: Yes, that was December the 12th, 12th of the 3rd, ’43, and then the other thing later, the RAF. [?]
NM: What was the background to the award of the DFC?
BH: We were on – trying to see where this is. [Pause] Oh, it was on the second tour, I’d done a tour of ops already and volunteered for another, and it was during this that I was awarded the DFC on the secondary tour, tour.
NM: Was the reason for the DFC because of your –
BH: Length, length of service, service.
NM: Length of service, rather than a particular –
BH: Yes, volunteering for so mu – so much with the, with Flying Command, with Bomber Command. I went to another squadron, 950 Squadron, we went to, on operational liaison duties, because that quite a bit – it was nice to go to other squadrons and find out how they were getting on and tell them what we did.
NM: So that was between your tours?
BH: Yes, yeah.
NM: So, what was the role you played as a liaison officer, then?
BH: Oh! [laughs] I was to sort out the ammunition, and of course, in the early days, we had the pans to slap onto aircraft, onto the gun, but later on, of course, we had machine belt, belt machine, belt ammunition.
NM: Did you see much evolution in air gunnery between 1939 and 1945? Can you –
BH: Yes, well, we had a lot of new aircraft, new guns coming along, American, lot of new American guns that we were using, and also the, the loading, the belts, not just the belts, but ammunition belt, pan, pans. I don’t seem to be able to tell you anything more positive, really, you know, but –
NM: You received a commission during your service, didn’t you? Because you joined as a LAC and -
BH: LAC, yes.
NM: And moved up to flight lieutenant.
BH: Flight lieutenant, that’s right, yes.
NM: What was the history there?
BH: Well, I’d been, I’d been moved from one place to another and volunteered for so much, much, and there was a lot of training and did a lot of training with pupils coming along. [Pause] Show you this last one there; we had enormous amount of people with us, we had somebody with seventy-two – oh, that was me with seventy two! So, if all the others had had twenty-four trips, then we were – this was a mission for, for training. It was a voluntary – well, it was when I was on a liaison trip to, to Skellingthorpe on training for, for measured score [?], I said that I’d, I’d done seventy, seventy-odd trips and I’d never been to Berlin, so this gunnery leader there said ‘Well, you’re alright, we’ll go with us tonight,’ got to the end of the runway and this aircraft, this aircraft, yeah, this aircraft, and the target was changed to an alternative, and in the end, we went there and bombed that, and as we come away from it, the skipper says, ‘Well, you’ve seen Berlin on the right, on the starboard side,’ he says, but of course, the rest of the crew didn’t care too much for this, they wanted to get home, back home [slight laugh]!
NM: Do you keep in touch with Bomber Command through squadron associations or reunions?
BH: No, that’s – do you know, apart from our local reunions at Sywell, I haven’t gone back to any RAF squadrons at all.
NM: And what’s your association with Sywell?
BH: Well, our, our early training was there, we, we – it was the first aircraft we flew, flew in. We – every opportunity we had of going on a flight, we, we, we took it, you know?
NM: And you get – you go back there now for reunions?
BH: Oh, yes; well, we’ve got a Battle of Britain fighter association, and also, there’s a local – we’ve got a gunnery leader and – oh dear, what do we call the things now? We go to Sywell for the reunions for air, air gunners, all the air gunner, local air gunners, and we joined this local Battle of Britain – no, not Battle of Britain fighter association, it’s the – we joined this – oh dear [pause] gunnery association, really. Do you know, I – my mind’s really terrible.
NM: And do you still meet as a group?
BH: Oh yes; at Sywell, we’ve got a, quite a nice little bunch of fellers there, I think about, we’ve had as many as fourteen or fifteen, but it gradually faded, you know, died off a bit, and so we’re only getting about three or four of us go, once a month.
NM: And are these just socials, social get-togethers over lunch, or just to talk about old times?
BH: No, just at the, the aerodrome at Sywell, where there was a bar there, you see, that was the attraction amongst [?]. There were various cross-country trips, you know, to renew our flying experience.
NM: When was the last time you flew? Was it at the end of the war, or have you flown since the end of the war?
BH: [unclear] [sound of turning pages] So, Oaksbridge [?], we had a – was Bishop’s Court – was about ’44, February 44, it says.
NM: You haven’t flown since the war?
BH: No; oh, well, not air force. I, I, we’ve flown private, private flying ‘cause we’ve got some friends in, in France, we used to go nip across, you know, by ordinary aircraft.
NM: Okay. Shall we stop the recording there?
BH: Yes.
NM: I think.
[recording is stopped and restarted]
BH: Well, people had lost their logbook, or oil [?]. So I managed to rescue mine and copy this from it. [Pause] Who was that?
NM: So your logbook doesn’t exist anymore but you’ve copied all this out from it?
BH: Oh, yes, that’s right, remembering.
NM: So, are you still in touch with any of your original air crew?
BH: Well, I was in touch with the skipper that I flew with most of the time, Alan Gowarth [?] of Monaco, Monaco, he was a night pilot, fighter pilot in 23 Squadron in - during the Battle of Britain, and this, this was illustrated with the seventieth anniversary of the Battle being commended.
NM: So you’re still in touch with him? Are you in touch with him now?
BH: No, no, not in the last – I think he might have pegged out since, but yes, I think it was quite late when I still, still in touch with him, March.
NM: So you were in touch by letter. Did you ever meet him again after the war?
BH: No, no, no, of course, he was New Zealand, he went to settle in his home in New Zealand. [Pause, sound of turning pages] Spires of Lincoln coming out of the mist as we got closer to home, a wonderful sight. As a matter of fact, we did have a situation where we were followed in to our own base, and we warned – been warned about this, and anyhow, it was the last minute, really, before he was gonna fire at us, and we noticed that he was almost nose to tail with us, and so I told the skipper, you know, ‘We, we, we’re being followed, turn, turn starboard,’ you know, and he says ‘Okay, yes, fair enough,’ and we shook him off, but he got to within, oh, within a few hundred yards, I suppose, of shooting us down, and we got back home.
NM: So, you had a clear sight of this?
BH: Oh, yes, it was a, it was a Heinkel.
NM: And at this point, you were coming into which airfield?
BH: Hmm, not sure.
NM: Was that Wickenby or somewhere in Lincolnshire?
BH: Yes, somewhere, somewhere in Lincolnshire, but I can’t remember which. I should ought to remember because we were near, near to being shot down!
NM: Was that the closest you’ve, you came?
BH: I think so, to our demise, yes. [Pause] We’ve been told about this: ‘Be careful, the blighter’s follow, following you in,’ and he almost on our nose, on our tail, you know, with his nose. [Pause] And then the skipper says, ‘Glad you kept your eyes open, Bob!’ [laughs]
[recording is stopped and restarted]
BH: On the way back from the major target, we’d sort of go to various aerodromes, and the skipper’d ask me to go into the front turret so that we could go around the, the dispersal points shooting up all and setting fire to a lot of aircraft. We did this on quite a few occasions.
[recording is stopped and restarted]
BH: I was just wondering where to start, what, what was I talking about, now?
NM: You were talking about the geodetic construction.
BH: Oh, yes, yes, I was thankful and praised God for Barnes Wallis because of his aircraft design. We were over Benghazi, and we had a, a enormous hole inside of the fuselage (about six foot diameter), and the fact that it was geodetic construction of air, the pilot still flew the aircraft quite smoothly, and then we landed in the desert and checked up on what was what, and we took off again! And that was with a six foot diameter hole in the side of the, the fuselage, and of course, as I say, I thank God for Barnes Wallis and the fact that the geodetic construction was so, so wonderful.
NM: And the damage was caused by en –
BH: By flak, but that was bloody uncomfortable to sleep and we – ‘course, when we were in the desert, we, when we went up from Cairo up to advanced base, we’d have to sleep in the aircraft, but the geodetic construction was as comfortable to sleep on! [laughs] You know, you’d have load of flying kit all on your hip, you know, to stop you from being stirred [?] ‘cause it was in – we slept in the co – oh, if we, if you laid out, you slept outside the aircraft in the desert, in, in the, oh dear, well, if, if you slept outside in the desert, on where there were lots of dried-up salt lakes, but you could have slept on there, and that was – but there were a lot of darn [unclear] about, and they were, actually, they sounded worse than they were, so it was a question sleeping inside the aircraft, but then, of course, you’ve got the geodetic construction, you know, made it uncomfortable, but having a lot of Irvine jackets and trousers, course, to pad the sides.

Collection

Citation

Nigel Moore, “Interview with Bob Hughes,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 7, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8858.

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